Prof. Ronald D. Vale, Ph.D

Prof. Ronald D. Vale, Ph.D

Prof. Ronald D. Vale, Ph.D

Ronald D. Vale is Professor of the Dept. of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco and is an Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Vale received B.A. degrees in Biology and Chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1980. Dr. Vale received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Stanford University in 1985 where he trained with Dr. Eric Shooter. He was a Staff Fellow with the N.I.H. stationed at the Marine Biological Laboratory in 1985-6 and began his faculty appointment at UCSF in 1987. Vale is active in many educational and community-building activities. He founded and is the Executive Director of iBiology.Org, which produces talks by leading biologists and makes them freely available on the web. His laboratory developed MicroManager, a widely used open source and freely available software package for microscopy. Vale is active in helping young scientists in India by starting the Young Investigator Meetings, the Bangalore Microscopy Course, and the web site called which provides information on science/jobs/grants/collaborations in India. He also served as the President of ASCB in 2012. Dr. Vale received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the Shaw Prize in Life Sciences and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Sciences, EMBO, and to the Indian National Science Academy.


What it means to be a scientist: thoughts from my journey from Hollywood.

What does a scientist actually do? How does one become a scientist? I will address both of these questions in my talk, using my own experiences as examples.

I grew up in Hollywood California. My mother and father were both in the movie industry (although not in the rich and famous category). However, I did meet some famous people growing up. But my heart directed me towards science, and I will tell you why. I will describe some key experiences that helped me to understand what scientific research is and how I got my career started.

I also will explain what scientists do, why scientific discovery is so exciting, and why science is perhaps the “most international” of all professions. I also will highlight why science plays such a valuable role for our society and planet.

Also, if you want some easy reading on why I like being a scientist, have a look at this article: “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Career as an Academic Scientist”.


The world’s smallest machines

Look around at living organisms. What do you see? They are moving. Birds fly, lions pounce, and football players dash across the field. Movement is a fundamental property of biological organisms. Now look under a microscope. Pond water is full of unicellular organisms that swim and twirl in all directions. Let’s crank up the magnification further and look inside of a cell. Organelles are moving everywhere, functioning like cargo trucks that deliver goods within a city.

Where does all of this movement come from? Machines. Machines that are proteins. Machines that, like your car, convert chemical energy into motion. But compared to your car engine, these biological machines are 100 million smaller. And they are more efficient. A typical car operates
at ~15% efficiency while biological motors are 50-99% efficient.

I will discuss how the molecular motors drive biological motion. These motors drive muscle contraction, the beating of cilia and flagella, and the movement of materials inside of cells. I was lucky enough
to discover one of these motors (kinesin) when I was 25 years old. I will tell you about my discovery, reveal how these machines work, and describe why they are important for medicine
and biotechnology.